No Jets rookie has played in every game this season besides punter Braden Mann. Five have spent time on injured reserve, one on the reserve/non-football injury list and one will end the season on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Nothing about their first season in the NFL has been normal, from a virtual offseason to playing in empty stadiums to calling a trailer their locker room.
But Joe Douglas may have something to work with. The Jets general manager’s first draft class has shown signs of promise entering Sunday’s season finale against the Patriots, offering hope that it can help provide the foundation for a turnaround in the years to come.
“That’s something we definitely hope to do,” rookie cornerback Bryce Hall said Friday. “We still got a long ways to go before we can comfortably say that, but that’s something this young group of guys, we take pride in — just being able to be a part of change and impacting this organization in a positive way.”
The Jets’ season will end in Week 17 for a 10th straight year and with it will come an offseason full of change — starting with an expected change at head coach, plenty of uncertainty at quarterback and more roster overturn to come. But despite the Jets rookies not getting to experience much winning this year, coach Adam Gase believes they have benefitted by learning from the veterans and seeing how they handled a trying season.
“Our young players, I feel like, have gotten better because they’ve understood how they need to practice throughout this,” Gase said. “They understand how they need to show up and be ready for game day and then when they get their opportunities, they’ve got to make the most of it. I think there’s a lot of young guys that got a lot of valuable playing time this year, but I also think they got a lot of valuable practice time as well.
“I’ve been on teams before where things aren’t going right and guys miss out on opportunities to get better because they’re like, ‘Ah, this season is a waste and I’m not getting anything out of it.’ When guys take this understanding, ‘Hey, I’m getting better because of this as an individual player,’ that is huge. It’s so beneficial for a young player, because you only get so many shots at this thing, you only get so many reps. Every rep is so valuable for all these guys, especially rookies, especially no offseason, no real training camp, no preseason games. Everything that we do is critical for these guys’ development.”
Hall, a fifth-round pick who has played every snap of the past five games after coming back from a serious ankle injury at Virginia, is one of the nine rookies Douglas drafted in April. Seven of them have played this season, with Hall, left tackle Mekhi Becton and wide receiver Denzel Mims all currently starting and Mann getting plenty of action.
Safety Ashtyn Davis (foot) and running back La’Mical Perine (COVID-19) already played their last game of the season and defensive end Jabari Zuniga has struggled to get playing time after being set back by a quad injury in training camp. But the Jets could have pieces to build with from their 2020 draft class heading into a crucial offseason — one that might even feel a bit closer to normal.
“This experience has allowed us to really draw close and I feel like it’s contributed to us being able to contribute, a lot of young guys doing it,” Hall said.
“I feel like the biggest jumps usually happen from first to second year. … So it’s extremely exciting to be able to really attack, know now what to expect and to prepare accordingly.”